Thursday, June 22, 2006

Jean-Ro Bistro

As anyone in Cincinnati can attest, Jean-Robert knows food. I first met him in person at La Maisonette while I was in culinary school. I went in during one of my intern periods to beg to do what’s known as a “stage,” or apprenticeship, in his kitchen, and he willingly agreed (stages are unpaid, or course). I’ve met many ill-tempered French chefs who yell, scream, demoralize and throw pots and pans around the kitchen, but Jean-Robert was not one of those, by a long shot. Sure, when dinner service kicked up he was stern and serious about his work, never settling for anything less than excellent. But he was also human, and a good mentor, loving to show people how to prepare unfamiliar ingredients in a new way. While I was free labor, his “payment” to me at the end of my stay was to invite me into the restaurant with my family

Our meal last Friday at Jean-Ro was superb, from start to finish. It’s never just grabbing a bite at one of his restaurants, but is rather dining in the truest sense. It’s sort of like Pigall’s, but a whole lot cheaper. The place was abuzz on Friday, even though it was late by Cincinnati standards (8:30 pm). Still, we were seated in about 20 minutes.

One of my favorite things about Jean-Ro is the “pichet.” That’s French for pitcher, and, at this restaurant it stands for a healthy quantity of either white or red table wine. Nothing fancy or name brand, but very good, solid wines to go with a classic bistro meal. When I say cheap, I’m not kidding. It’s only $9.50 for the larger size, which is the perfect amount for 2 people to share and get 2 glasses apiece.

I started my meal with the Belgian Endive Salad, a delicious mix of sliced endive, walnuts, chunks of Swiss cheese and crisp apple, all tossed in a cider vinaigrette. It’s the salad I always get here, be it lunch or dinner, and it didn’t disappoint. All those textures and flavors combine into a delicious starter. Peter began with a Shrimp Stuffed Avocado, which tasted okay, but a little too mayonnaise-y for me, and too much like something I might get at a hoity toity bridal shower.

We both enjoyed our entrees, but Peter’s merits some additional description. He ordered the Twice Baked Pork Chop, whose description has always piqued my interest. In a word, it was amazing. The best pork chop I’ve ever had. Our server told us that it’s brined and then roasted. Where some pork chops are tough and chewy, this chop was perfectly tender and melt-in-your mouth good. Surrounded by braised, buttery apples, it was delicious and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Crème caramel and Ile Flotant (Floating Island) topped off our meal perfectly. Neither was too sweet, but just enough to make us not feel guilty.

Jean-Robert is a master. Not only do I enjoy his food, but I know him to be a kind, genuine, passionate person, and a brilliant, devoted restaurateur. I’m eagerly anticipating his next venture, Greenup Café, a coffee and pastry shop in the old Wildflour space in Covington. Given his track record, I don’t see how it can miss.


The damage: The total amount we owed was just $60! (just kidding, it wasn't really that cheap. We were lucky enough to have a $60 gift certificate to use, so you do the math)

Watch out for: it's pretty loud in here, so you'll have to sit and talk close to your sweetie

Food: 5 out of 5 forks - this guy sets the city's standard

Romance: 4 out of 5 kisses - see "watch out for" above

Jean-Ro Bistro
413 Vine Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202
(513) 621-1465

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Chef Clinton's Dry Rub

Chef Clinton gave out this super-simple rub recipe at his lecture at this June's Second Sunday on Main. Use on beef or pork for a nonfat way to bring out the flavor of the meat.

Pink Peppercorns
Thyme (dry)
Black Peppercorns
Salt (must be sea or Kosher)

  1. Mix equal parts of all ingredients in a spice or coffee grinder (just depends on how much you need whether you use 1 Tb or 1 cup of each).
  2. Apply rub to meat and grill.

Conversation with Clinton

So to be honest, the real reason I signed up to help out on Second Sunday in Main in the first place was because I saw the lineup of amazing chef speakers. I’m sorry that I missed Jean-Robert in May, but was delighted to see a lecture by Chef Clinton Jones of The Palace on the program for today.

This turned out to be far from a lecture though, and much more of a conversation. The weather wasn’t great which kept attendance down, but for me it was a great chance to get a front row seat and pick the brain of a first-class chef. Clinton (yes, we’re on a first-name basis now) has only been in Cincinnati since late last year. Over the course of his thirty-year career he’s worked in New York, California, and Hawaii. He’s worked with Alan Wong. And Charlie Palmer. I’m impressed already, and this guy must be the real deal! Though I dearly love this city, I’m always a little surprised when someone like Clinton chooses to settle down in Cincinnati, but he said he loves it here, which I hope means he’s planning a good, long stay.

Most of his talk today focused on the importance of using fresh, seasonal ingredients. To prove his point he presented us with a small plate full of lettuces and raw vegetables topped with vinaigrette. He picked up the produce just yesterday from a farmer in Kentucky. All he did was wash the vegetables, plate them, and dress them with a very simple heirloom tomato vinaigrette. He encouraged us to nibble away as he spoke, just using our fingers, so we could experience first-hand the undeniably fresh taste and clean flavors. His biggest frustration with Cincinnati have been finding fresh seafood and produce, but clearly he’s making progress sourcing produce.

Clinton also spoke about using the freshest, tastiest ingredients from the point of view that it means he doesn’t have to use an abundance of cream and butter. While he believes people should savor and enjoy their meals, he also thinks that after a meal you shouldn’t leave stuffed to the gills and feeling guilty about the meal you just had. Though his waitstaff warned him not to, he significantly cut down portion sizes soon after starting at The Palace. He was also told that we’re a “meat and potatoes” town, but he’s having success selling exotic dishes like Coffee Rubbed Elk Carpaccio on his menu.

I haven’t had the chance yet to dine at The Palace since Clinton took the helm, but now I’m just dying to. We asked for his current favorites on the menu and I’d love to try them all. Hanger Steak with a Bleu Cheese Fritter that melts on top of the steak when you break it open? Wow. Whole Fried Yellowtail Snapper with Mushrooms and Chinese Longbeans? Yup, I’m there. And top it all off with a Mille Feuille containing Pistachio Mascarpone Cream and Strawberries, right in the middle of strawberry season? Well, now there’s drool coming out of my mouth.

I learned a couple of other fun facts about Clinton. Seeing as an average day at work for him is about 14 ½ hours, he said he never cooks at home (his verbatim reply to me was “never buy a house from a plumber”). Oh, and he also said he’s never been to Skyline, which I encouraged him to try.

Now that I’ve talked to him, I don’t have to have tasted his food to know that we’re so lucky to have such an accomplished, experienced chef in town. The Palace has always been good but not great, and I’m excited to see it come into its own under the direction of Chef Jones.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Chez T

I've always had a thing for France. The food, the language, the wine, you name it. I was first enchanted when my school suddenly switched our language education from German to French, and my first ever trip to Europe was a three-week tour of France with my beloved French teacher, Mme. Hobson.

I love Chez T in Mt. Lookout for lunch not because it's less than a mile from our house (which is a bonus) but because it really makes me remember how much I love the French culture. The chef/owner clearly shares my passion, and has done everything she can to create a little piece of France right here in Cincinnati. Just like the cafes of Paris, it's a tiny little space just a few doors down from the previously reviewed Nectar. The self-serve coffee and tea bar makes the welcoming, comfortable space feel like it's the dining room of an intimate small hotel or bed and breakfast. And how cute is the bathroom?!? All kinds of knick knacks from France in a large, bright space make it a bathroom I could spend some time in (yes, women notice these things, and yes, nice bathrooms matter to us).

The food here can't be beat. Peter started with the Yellow Pepper Soup. I can't say I've had Yellow Pepper Soup much if ever, so I was intrigued to see how it would taste. It turned out to be not to thick and not too creamy, but just silky and deliciously sweet with exactly the right kick of spice. It speaks well of the chef that it didn't need an ounce of additional salt or pepper. Though I started with just one taste of the soup, I found myself lifting the spoon to my mouth for bite after bite while Peter looked at me disapprovingly.

For lunch I ordered what I've ordered a few times before: Grilled Vegetable Pita with Hummus. I also requested a substitution of the Wheatberry Salad for the slaw becuase I had it once before and remember it so fondly. My lunch was fabulous. The grill marks on the soft pita bread gave such a nice overall smoky flavor that balanced well with the roasted eggplant, red onion and creamy hummus. The side of Wheatberry Salad was just as good as I remembered. It's got a unique flavor and consistency, with its chewy grains matched with grated carrots, currants and tomato chunks, all dressed in a light but flavorful vinaigrette.

Peter ordered the ham and brie baguette, which also looked fantastic. The bread was piled high with shaved ham, a very generous amount of brie, and a tarragon mustard-y, mayonnaise-y combination. We both gobbled down everything on our plates, including the last bites of soup. If we'd had more room, we could've tried one of the yummy-looking baked goods for dessert, but we had to refrain.

The only problem is that every time I leave Chez T I'm left thinking about how much I want to go back to France, and right now it's looking like I'm quite a ways off from that. For the time being, I'll just have to settle for a taste every now and then.


The damage: $27 for beverages, soup, and two lunch entrees

Watch out for: there are no soft drinks, so you're limited to water, iced tea, and coffee. Also, remember that this is a lbrunch/lunch-only place.

Food: 4.5 out of 5 forks

Romance: 4 out of 5 kisses (it's the French part of it)

Chez T
1004 Delta Avenue
Cincinnati, Ohio 45208

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Second Sunday on Main

If you've been following this blog of late, you'll know that we're fairly seriously considering moving to the 'burbs. Still, as a born and raised Cincinnati girl, I love to see and participate in things that make our downtown grow and thrive.

I recently found out about a new event called "Second Sunday on Main." A good friend told me about this, knowing my passion for food and wine. The second event of the season is this Sunday, and I'm definitely planning to check it out. Here's the "foodie-appealing" part of what's on tap for this weekend:

Chef Clinton Jones, the brilliant new executive chef at the Palace Restaurant, will talk about “Fine Dining with Health – not Butter and Cream.”
2 p.m. at Mr. Pitiful’s. Space limited. First come, first seated.

Sommelier Paul Ortiz of the Cincinnati Wine School will conduct a wine tasting on “Wines for the Dog Days.” Great wine for the hot summer months; wines for the front porch and picnics, while you hang out with your dog.
3 p.m. at Mr. Pitiful’s. They have to charge a nominal fee because they can't legally just give away wine for free.

Among other things that will be on Main, I've heard that you can purchase fresh produce from the Eco Garden courtesy of Impact OTR: and sample real Italian-inspired gelato from the only real gelato maker in the area.

There's music, shopping, and art for those of you who aren't interested in any of the above activities. If you can't come this weekeend, I'll bring my camera to capture the day, and will let you know how it goes next week, right here on .

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Dilly of a Deli

You already know that Peter's favorite animal is the pig. But I think we'd both agree that our favorite food group is cheese. That's right--not dairy--just cheese. Peter proposed to me by planning a picnic in Alms Park that consisted mostly of cheese along with its best friends bread and wine. I'm not sure if he got the cheese from the Dilly Deli on that particular occasion, but it's a meal we recreate there frequently.

The Dilly Deli has come a long way over the years since it relocated to the Mariemont Strand. It started out as just a small storefront and has now expanded into a charming restaurant, wine and cheese shop. The part store-part restaurant atmosphere is crowded, cozy, and reminiscent of a European cafe. You can eat inside, outside (they've got a nice outdoor fireplace for chilly evenings), or just carry out a selection of delectable goodies like we did last night.

Part of the fun is just perusing all the lovely selections of none too ordinary foodstuffs. A beautiful array of cheese is at the forefront, with a staff ready and willing to help you find the flavors and textures just for you. Then there are all the beautiful jars of honey, jam, sauce, tapenade and countless types of crackers, flatbreads and other "bases" for the cheese and other accompaniments. What I love is that you'll find hidden containers throughout the shelves that have small samples of the various crackers so you can get just a bit of a taste before making your selection. Last night I sampled varieties of crackers that tasted like red wine, lasagna, and vanilla. And I took much more than my fair "sample" share of almond cranberry biscotti.

If you choose to eat a more traditional meal, you'll find everything from gourmet salads to homemade soups to delicious sandwiches. I highly recommend the Mariemont Gobbler if you're in a sandwich mood--turkey layered with Brie and lettuce on a baguette, topped with the truly special ingrdient, Cranberry Fool (you'll have to look up that one yourself). I'm also a sucker for the Grilled Shrimp and Asparagus Salad. I've never tried any of the entrees, but they offer things like seared Ahi and Grilled Ribeye, as well as all kinds of pasta dishes.

Last night, we of course ended up mostly with cheese, some of which smelled like sweaty feet but tasted pretty darn good all runny and oozy (make sure to eat this and all cheese at room temperature). We had some crackers of course, and the last bowls of Tuscan Bean and Chicken with Wild Rice Soup the deli had to offer. Oh yes, and Peter threw on a Chicken Salad Sandwich for good measure. All in all, the perfect meal.

If you're wondering, yes Peter cringed at the title on this blog entry (maybe I should just stick with the straightforward restaurant names as I've been doing). So what, Mr. Big Time Creative Director, does "dilly" mean anyway? All he could tell me was that Ned Flanders uses the expression "dilly of a pickle" when he's in a tough spot.


The damage: $35 or so, and we've got tons of cheese and crackers still left for tonight's snacks

Watch out for: service can be a little bit slow, so go on a night when you don't have anywhere particular to be at any particular time

Food: 4.5 forks

Romance: 4 kisses, because with all that wine and cheese, how can it not be "romantical?"

Dilly Deli
6818 Wooster Pike (in the Mariemont Strand)
Cincinnati, Ohio 45227